United States District Court, D. Idaho
TRAVIS WILLIAMS and AMANDA WILLIAMS, husband and wife, Plaintiffs,
MADISON COUNTY, IDAHO and the MADISON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, a political subdivision of Madison County, Idaho, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
C. NYE, CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
before the Court is Plaintiff Travis Williams' Motion in
Limine (Dkt. 186) and Defendants Madison County and Madison
County Sheriff's Department's (collectively
“Madison County”) Motion in Limine (Dkt. 187).
reviewed the record and briefs, the Court finds that the
facts and legal arguments are adequately presented.
Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and
because the Court finds that the decisional process would not
be significantly aided by oral argument, the Court will
decide the Motions without oral argument. Dist. Idaho Loc.
Civ. R. 7.1(d)(2)(ii). For the reasons outlined below, the
Court will GRANT in PART and DENY in PART each Motion.
facts of this case are well known to both parties and the
Court will only include a brief recitation here for context.
was previously employed by Madison County. Madison County
terminated Williams' employment on July 27, 2012. At the
time of Williams' termination, Madison County operated
under the 2006 Madison County Personnel Policy
(“MCPP”). On November 9, 2012, Williams filed the
instant lawsuit alleging numerous causes of action. After the
issues were tried by a jury, the Court entered Judgment on
December 4, 2015, requiring Defendants to pay $445, 819.46 in
damages, costs, and attorney fees. Dkt. 120.
appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and on July
10, 2018, the Ninth Circuit entered its Memorandum Decision
vacating and remanding the judgment on Williams'
procedural due process claim and award of attorney fees, and
reversing entirely the judgment in favor of Williams'
wife's loss of consortium claim and Williams'
negligent infliction of emotional distress claim. Dkt. 168.
of the original trial in this matter, this Court instructed
the jury that Mr. Williams had a property right in his
employment as a matter of law. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit
found that the Court had given this instruction in error. The
Ninth Circuit noted that “there is an issue of fact as
to whether Plaintiff had a property right in his continued
employment, given the many provisions in the personnel
manual, including those disclaiming contractual obligations
and reserving management rights, and in light of Mitchell
v. Zilog, Inc., 874 P.2d 520 (Idaho 1994).”
Williams v. Madison Cty., Idaho, 741 Fed.Appx. 372,
374 (9th Cir. 2018). Based on the Ninth Circuit's
decision, the Court entered an order limiting the retrial of
this matter to the single issue of “whether [Plaintiff]
had a property right in his continued employment with Madison
County.” Dkt. 177, at 2.
anticipation of the upcoming trial, and pursuant to the
Court's trial order (Dkt. 179), both parties filed
motions in limine seeking to preclude certain evidence and
testimony at trial. While the motions overlap to some degree,
for organizational purposes, the Court will address each
motion-and each sub-part-in turn as filed by the parties.
in limine are well-established devices that streamline trials
and settle evidentiary disputes in advance, so that trials
are not interrupted mid-course for the consideration of
lengthy and complex evidentiary issues.” Miller v.
Lemhi Cty., No. 4:15-CV-00156-DCN, 2018 WL 1144970, at
*1 (D. Idaho Mar. 2, 2018) (citing United States v.
Tokash, 282 F.3d 962, 968 (7th Cir. 2002)). “The
term ‘in limine' means ‘at the outset.' A
motion in limine is a procedural mechanism to limit in
advance testimony or evidence in a particular area.”
United States v. Heller, 551 F.3d 1108, 1111 (9th
Cir. 2009) (quoting Black's Law Dictionary 803 (8th ed.
“[a]n in limine order precluding the admission of
evidence or testimony is an evidentiary ruling, ”
United States v. Komisaruk, 885 F.2d 490, 493 (9th
Cir. 1989) (citation omitted), “a district court has
discretion in ruling on a motion in limine, ”
United States v. Ravel, 930 F.2d 721, 726 (9th Cir.
1991). Further, in limine rulings are preliminary and,
therefore, “are not binding on the trial judge [who]
may always change his mind during the course of a
trial.” Ohler v. United States, 529 U.S. 753,
758 n.3 (2000).
Plaintiff's Motion in
Motion in Limine, Williams moves to be allowed to introduce
evidence with regards to Madison County's decision to
alter the status of its employees from
“for-cause” to “at-will.” He also
moves to exclude evidence of Madison County's November
10, 2010 disciplinary action against him and to prohibit
Madison County from referencing the idea that a contract is
required for an employee to have a protected property
interest in employment. The Court will examine each issue in
Evidence related to Madison County's decision to alter
the status of its employees from “for-cause” to
(with withheld ruling on some issues).
first requests a court order that allows him to introduce
evidence that Madison County changed the status of its
employees from “for-cause” to
“at-will” after he was terminated. Williams
contends that this information is relevant and helpful in
understanding the parameters of his employment relationship
with Madison County. Madison County filed a similar motion
asking that this same information be excluded entirely. In
its view, the information is irrelevant, constitutes
inadmissible hearsay, and is evidence of subsequent remedial
measures. As this cross-motion is arguably the most crucial
motion at this juncture, it will be addressed in greater
detail than the others.
factual matter, Madison County reviewed and subsequently
revised the 2006 MCPP in 2014 and 2015 to clarify that each
employee's status was “at-will” as opposed to
“for-cause.” During this time, there were
numerous commissioner meetings. At those meetings (and
elsewhere) Troy Evans, deputy civil attorney for Madison
County, explained the differences between
“for-cause” and “at-will” employment,
discussed the advantages and disadvantages of both
structures, and opined generally on the MCPP.
the 2014 and 2015 commissioner meetings were audio and video
recorded. In the recordings, some Madison County
Commissioners, as well as other individuals, expressed
thoughts on “at-will” and “for-cause”
employment, as well as their understanding of what the MCPP
required. Additionally, some individuals used phrases such as
“new policy” and “changed policy” in
the recordings. Williams wishes to introduce this evidence to
demonstrate that during the time of his employment with
Madison County, he could only be terminated
“for-cause.” Madison County denies that there was
any “change” to its policy, but rather argues
there was only a clarification and that the County
Commissioners are free to adopt, modify, interpret, or revise
its own policies at any time simply as part of its continuing
duties. As for the specific information, testimony, and
exhibits Williams will likely seek to introduce on this
subject, Madison County objects for three reasons, each of
which will be addressed below.
citing to Federal Rule of Evidence 401,  Madison County
asserts that the documents, video, and testimony offered by
Williams are irrelevant. The Court disagrees.
contends that in order to evaluate whether a person has a
protected property right in their employment “all the
circumstances surrounding the relationship” must be
considered. See Mitchell v. Zilog, Inc., 874 P.2d
520, 523 (1994). Madison County agrees, but asserts that the
scope of these events (which took place approximately two to
three years after Madison County terminated Williams) are
niether relevant nor related to his actual termination. In
its estimation, “the only relevant evidence to consider
on this issue is the actual language of the policy that was
in effect at the time of [Williams'] termination of
employment, which was the 2006 MCPP.” Dkt. 187, at 6.
This argument, however, is undercut by Madison County's
own admission that the changes were implemented directly
as a result of three employment lawsuits-including this
one. Clearly, the subsequent changes are related and
relevant to Williams-even if separated in time. To be sure,
it is undisputed that the 2006 MCPP was the governing
document at the time of Williams' termination, but a
finder of fact is entitled to consider other evidence (within
reason) in an effort to understand that particular policy.
side argument, Madison County asserts that Troy Evans
“is not an elected official . . . not a representative
of Madison County . . . does not have the authority to bind
Madison County . . . does not have the authority to interpret
the language of the MCPP . . . [and] as such, Mr. Evans
opinions or statements are not relevant to any issue for the
jury.” Dkt. 187, at 6. The Court finds this position
it may be true that “the county commissioners and
elected officials are the only Madison County agents with
authority to adopt policy, interpret policy, and bind the
county, ” that does not mean that Evans testimony is
irrelevant or inadmissible. Evans was an attorney working for
Madison County. It is his job to give legal advice to the
individuals that adopt, interpret, and bind the county. Evans
was the one who lead the discussions regarding the
“change, ” answered questions, and gave
County is free to cross examine Evans and/or argue that
Evans' statements were his opinion and non-binding, but
the fact remains that Evans' testimony is
relevant. Moreover, Evans' testimony could also
be important for impeachment purposes. Accordingly, the Court
finds the 2014-2015 revisions (and Evans' testimony) are
relevant to the current action.
Madison County asserts that the testimony proffered is
inadmissible as it constitutes hearsay. Williams submits that
he will be able to lay the appropriate foundation and defeat
any hearsay objection. The Court cannot rule on this issue at
this time as it does not know the specific questions,
answers, or objections that will be raised during trial. Both
sides should be prepared to argue these issues at trial
outside the presence of the jury.
Subsequent Remedial Measures
Madison County argues that the 2014-2015 revisions to the
MCPP are subsequent remedial measures and that the Court
should exclude them accordingly.
Rule of Evidence 407 outlines that:
When measures are taken that would have made an earlier
injury or harm less likely to occur, evidence of the
subsequent measures is not admissible to prove:
• culpable conduct;
• a defect in a product or its design; or
• a need for a warning or instruction.
court may admit this evidence for another purpose, such as
impeachment or - if disputed - proving ownership, control, or
the feasibility of precautionary measures.
407 is based on the policy of encouraging potential
defendants to remedy hazardous conditions without fear that
their actions will be used as evidence against them.”
Pau v. Yosemite Park & Curry Co., 928 F.2d 880,
888 (9th Cir. 1991).
County asserts that it made the changes in the MCPP policy in
response to this-and other pending-lawsuits, and that had the
policy been in effect previously, it would have made the
injury less likely, i.e., it contends that this is a textbook
example of a subsequent remedial measure. The Court is not
Court acknowledges the change may have resulted in less
employment lawsuits for Madison County-although the Court
does not know that for a fact-but more importantly, the
“change” was not necessary to make that happen.
Said differently, this is not the typical situation, such as
in a product-liability case, where something is
“broken” and needs to be fixed. A
“for-cause” employment policy is completely
legal, acceptable, and enforceable. In the end, while Madison
County choose to go with an “at-will” policy as
opposed to a “for-cause” policy it did not
have to do so. The one was not remedial of the other.
Each system has advantages and drawbacks, but are nothing
more than different approaches.
County's argument is further undercut by statements made
by its own people and its later arguments in opposition to